Cape Cod daydreams often include long sunny days at the beach, strolling on the sand, frolicking in the water and eating plenty of seafood. In reality, this idyllic picture only exists a fraction of the year – primarily in July and August, the only months with consistently warm weather and sunny skies.
Fortunately, the remaining months have their own appeal, such as fewer people and lower prices, and each season presents delightfully different dressings, from fall foliage to winter holiday festivities to spring blooms. Even better? Seafood is in season year-round.
Whether you’re coming for a summer beach holiday or an offseason getaway, here are the best times to visit Cape Cod.
Shoulder season is the best time for blooms and birds (April to June)
Cape Cod is delightful in the spring. The weather starts to warm up, and the gardens and greenery burst into bloom. There’s plenty of rain, but there’s also plenty of sunshine.
Temperatures are ideal for hiking, biking, birding and beach walking. Lodging is much more affordable than in summer, and there are no traffic jams (with the exception of Memorial Day weekend).
High season is for trips to the beach (July & August)
Sunny skies and consistently hot weather make July and August the best time for a traditional beach holiday with sunning, swimming and sand-digging. The summer months are also best for whale watching, as humpback, minke and fin whales all spend their summers off the coast of Massachusetts.
The tradeoff, of course, is that July and August are the months everyone goes to the Cape. Traffic clogs the streets, beach parking lots fill up, it’s hard to find a spot on the sand for your towel and the cost of lodging and flights are at their peak.
Avoid the crowds and enjoy mild temps in fall shoulder (September & October)
High season's official end is Labor Day, after which Cape Cod is left to the locals and the seals. The fall shoulder season is the most pleasant time on Cape Cod, with mild sunny weather and fewer people. Some local establishments close for the season, but popular activities like whale-watching cruises and dune tours run through October.
September and October are excellent for wildlife watching on Cape Cod. The seals head to Monomoy Island to breed, and many species of birds pass through the region on their migratory journeys.
Hunt for bargains during low season (November to April)
Cape Cod is quiet from November to April. Many lodgings and restaurants close for the season, or dramatically reduce their prices, and attractions like museums, galleries and nature preserves may also close during these offseason months. Always check ahead before you book.
The weather on Cape Cod is rainy in November and cold and windy the rest of the season. The good news is that the wintertime air temperature is about 10 degrees warmer than on the mainland, and the Cape receives considerably less snow.
The beaches are wonderfully windswept and gloriously desolate during these months. It’s a fantastic time for sunrises and sunsets, birding, beachcombing, long walks and winter swimming (if you’re into that sort of thing).
Plunge into the New Year in January
Kick off the New Year with a Polar Plunge into the frigid Atlantic. It's an annual New Year’s Day event that draws large crowds in Provincetown, Yarmouth and Bourne. If you prefer to stay dry, there are also First Day hikes at various conservation lands around the Cape.
Key Events: First Night Celebrations, New Year’s Day, Polar Plunges
Get cozy at an area B&B in February
February is a good time to hunker down in front of a fireplace in one of Cape Cod’s many cozy B&Bs. Presidents’ Day kicks off a statewide school vacation week, when a few local museums and nature centers have special programming for kids.
Key Event: Hyannis Marathon
Celebrate St Patrick’s Day in March
Temperatures are still raw in March. While the Cape remains mostly quiet, things perk up mid-month for the festive Cape Cod St Patrick’s Parade in Yarmouth.
Key Events: St Patrick’s Parade
Stop to smell the flowers in April
The cherry-blossom trees are fragrant and pink, the herring are running and Cape Cod is awakening from its winter slumber. Some seasonal activities – such as whale-watching cruises and Heritage Gardens – begin operating during the third week in April, which is a school vacation week throughout Massachusetts.
Key Event: Patriots’ Day
Spot breeding birds in May
Cape Cod offers exceptional birding any time of year, but May is prime time, thanks to the return of migratory species. The rhododendrons burst into bloom at Heritage Gardens. Memorial Day weekend marks the opening of the official tourist season.
Key Events: Rhododendron Festival, Memorial Day, Figawi Race
Take chilly dips in June
In early June, the weather on Cape Cod is still cool and rainy, and summer visitors trickle in. By the second half of the month, the days are hot, but the ocean is cold. Crowds are still sparse on the sand, making it a fine time for a beach holiday if you can handle the chilly water. Things pick up in late June thanks to a host of Pride events held throughout the area.
Key Events: Provincetown Portuguese Festival and Blessing of the Fleet, Juneteenth
Soak up the sun in July
Fourth of July weekend is the busiest summer weekend on Cape Cod. In villages around the Cape, skies light up with fireworks displays and the streets come alive with Independence Day parades. After the holiday weekend, fun continues with arts festivals and garden tours throughout the month.
Key Events: Fourth of July, Cape Cod Hydrangea Festival, Provincetown Family Week
Swim in the Cape’s warmest waters in August
By August, several weeks of warm weather and sunshine have worked their magic, and water temperatures around the Cape now average a swimmable 68°F. Throughout the month, Cape Cod’s event calendar is crowded with film festivals, road races and beach parties.
Key Events: Provincetown Carnival, Falmouth Road Race
Lounge on deserted beaches in September
After Labor Day, Cape Cod empties out, as families go home and kids return to school. But guess what? The water is pleasant for a few more weeks. Early September offers a little window of dreamy conditions – sunny skies, warmish waters and empty beaches.
Key Events: Labor Day, Harwich Cranberry Festival
Ogle the fall foliage in October
Cape Cod isn’t a premier fall foliage destination due to its mostly flat landscape and proliferation of pines. But scarlet oaks and golden elms put on a gorgeous display, especially on the Upper and Mid Cape.
Key Event: Wellfleet Oyster Fest
Visit the Pilgrims’ first landing site in November
Fun fact: before arriving in Plymouth, the Pilgrims made their first New World landing at present-day Provincetown, where they signed the Mayflower Compact. Provincetown celebrates this little piece of history on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving when the granite Pilgrim Monument lights up with more than 3000 lights (followed by music and merry-making).
Key Events: Provincetown Food & Wine Festival, Pilgrim Monument Lighting, Thanksgiving
Get festive in December
Christmas festivities abound on Cape Cod throughout the month of December. Almost every village celebrates with its own signature events, including fabulous light displays, holiday markets, fun runs and Christmas parades.
Key Events: Chatham Christmas Stroll, Lobster Pot tree lighting, Polar Express train rides